Real Human Being

Taking Flight is a company which specialises in theatre which is inclusive of both performers and audiences with disabilities; their outdoor productions of Shakespeare have become an annual summer fixture around Wales and beyond. Real Human Being represents another side of their work.

Currently in the middle of a three-year funding cycle, courtesy of the Welsh Government and the Home Office (with support from organisations such as Disability Wales, Disability Arts Cymru and South Wales Police), it is a play which is designed to be taken into schools in order to create awareness not only of the existence of disability hate crimes, but also of the importance (and practicalities) of reporting such offences. As company co-founder, Beth House points out much of what arises is also applicable to other kinds of abusive conduct.

When performed in schools, Real Human Being is the centrepiece of a day-long programme of activities, including workshops, hot-seat interviews with the characters and audience interventions, as is customary with issue-oriented forum theatre of this kind. I attended a performance of the hour-long drama (in three parts, interspersed with explanations and sample exercises) at Cardiff’s Llanover Hall Arts Centre.

Partially derived from interview material gathered by director Elise Davidson and writer Matthew Bulgo (author of the Wales Theatre Award-winning Last Christmas), the play is in a continual state of evolution in response to audience feedback. The 2015 cast includes Jack Binstead of BBC3’s Bad Education.

We focus initially on the friendship between two sixteen-year-olds: the awkward, nerdy Rhys; and Catrin, who semi-seriously refers to herself as a “chav”. On arrival in the sixth form, they encounter the feisty newcomer Alice, who has a disability. As one relationship develops, another deteriorates, partially as a result of jealousy.

Bullying occurs, both face-to-face and via social media. Later on, during a night out, Alice’s friend Tom, also disabled, slightly older and even more combative than her, is introduced, and things get serious.

The piece is designed for year 9 pupils—there is moderately strong language, use of offensive terms for people with disabilities and under-age drinking (a complementary production, aimed at primary-age children, is currently in development). Its aim, rather than to state the obvious in a didactic manner, is to provoke discussion and examination of the audience’s own attitudes and behaviour.

While this is not intended to be a review, my feeling is that by presenting relatable characters with complex and conflicting motivations, and creating a sense of palpable tension throughout, Real Human Being succeeds admirably in its objectives.